Africa gives away their farmland to Arab investors

I was dismayed when I read that Nigeria is offering to lease farmland to Gulf countries seeking food security and will allow investors to export all of their produce. Gulf Arab countries reliant on food imports have intensified efforts over the last year to buy land in developing nations ranging fromPakistan to the Sudan and Ethiopia.

"Nigeria has the terrain to provide 100 percent of the Gulf's food needs," Enbong Jimie Idiong, chief executive of Global Corp Ltd, told Reuters in an interview.

In what the Financial Times, has termed “rapacious”, rich nations are trotting the globe buying up the natural resources of poor countries. Foreign investors have acquired some 15-20 million hectares of farmland in poorer countries since 2006, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute.

There are more than 100 similar land-grabs globally, since September 2008, where huge tracts of farmland are bought up by wealthy countries as well international corporations.

The Gulf States are in the lead in this new investment. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait,Oman, Qatar, controlling between them 45% of the world's oil, are snatching AGRICULTURAL LAND in Egypt, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Zambia, Uganda, but also in Cambodia, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Russia.

South Korea has grabbed a staggering 960,000 hectares in Sudan, the largest country in Africa, where at least 6 other rich countries are said to have secured large land-holding – and precisely where the local population are among the hungriest and least secure in the world.

The Saudis are negotiating 500,000 hectares (not acres) in Tanzania. Companies for the United Arab Emirates have snapped up 324,000 hectares in Pakistan. Highly populated countries like China, South Korea and India have acquired swathes of African farmland to produce food for export.

India recently lowered tariffs for Ethiopian commodities that could enter India after the Indian government lent money to 80 Indian companies to buy 350,000 hectares of farmland in Africa, particularly huge tracts in Kenya, Mozambique and Ethiopia.

Mr Philippe Heilberg, a US businessman, has laid claim to 4,000 sq km of fertile territory in a deal with the family of a notorious warlord in south Sudan where Land is not in short supply.

More than a century ago, Cecil Rhodes extracted mineral rights from King Lobengula of the Ndebele and used these to push the frontiers of theBritish Empire beyond the Limpopo River. Some 120 years later, Zimbabwe is still struggling to overcome a legacy of unequal land distribution.

Mr Heilberg, a former Wall Street banker may be no Rhodes – his recent forays into Africa have yet to bear much fruit and include an acrimonious dispute over claims to an oil concession in south Sudan.

His latest venture does, though, have a decidedly 19th-century flavour to it. With the Arabs, UAE and China, he is buying up huge tracts of land in Sudan while the Sudanese are foolishly fighting over Darfur and now selling off their lands in addition.

The European Union would soon cut off the unsustainable farm subsidies. President Barack Obama also proposes to cut off massive funding to unsustainable subsidies to American farmers.

The result would be a huge demand for foodstuff in the future. The Sudanese, Nigerians and other poor countries that theink they make wise investments today by mortgaging their farmlands would quickly realise that they have short-changed themselves.

They would simply discover that a God-given resource that would constitute a strong bargaining chip has been taken out of their hands of forever.

What is Nigeria's justification for selling their birthrights for a pot of porridge?

Nigeria has around 71.2 million hectares of farmland, of which less that 50 percent is being used, according to data from Global Corp Ltd.

"We need investment to fully utilize this land and we will allow the investors to export back 100 percent of the crop and this will create employment opportunities for people in Nigeria," said Idiong, a consultant with Global Corp.

The land could be leased for up to 30 to 40 years at a cost of around $10,000 per hectare for that period, he said.

"Because of the large size of land we can offer investors as much as they want, and there is no particular kind of crop that can't be grown in Nigeria."

But writing on 'Re-Colonization of Africa through Buying Agricultural Land: Wealthy Nations and Their Multinationals on the Rampage', Akinyi Princess of K'Orinda-Yimbo wrote:

“Africans are being colonised again and this time not with the power of weapons but through Africans themselves selling their continent willingly. The 99- and 999-year lease – a remnant of colonialists – surely cannot fool anybody. This is equivalent to a full century and/or full millennium which translates into three and a half to thirty-four consecutive generations of Africans”.

He continued: “Africans are selling the one natural resource they can't afford to sell – their land. Especially arable land... The new colonialism is vast in Africa, with the buyers being wealthy countries unable to grow their own food. The Arabs are back fleeing their barren sands to turn Africa into their granary like they did one and a half millennia ago (in Egypt at the time).”

In the upcoming decades, several global developments will create new challenges for mankind. We will be confronted with problems and obstacles such as climate change, population growth beyond earth's capacity, and an increase in demand for energy and water caused by a striving for prosperity and expansion.

Africans should start thinking of themselves as worthwhile human beings too, plan for tomorrow and join forces to keep what is theirs theirs.

"Otherwise Africans might as well follow the butcher meekly to the slaughter house because that's where they're going to end up – in “native reserves” dying off as a people until the few Africans left are put in museums like they were once the main attraction in circuses all over the West in the 18th through early 20th centuries".

Daniel Elombah
(A Nigerian Perspective on world affairs)

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Articles by Daniel Elombah